Denver baby. One of our favorite cities.
These folks know great beer. More to the point, these folks like to drink great beer.
This is Brian O'Connell (and his lovely wife).
Brian knows great beer. Brian started Renegade brewing company in 2010 and has been brewing some of Denver's best beer since then.
We got a chance to catch up with Brian and ask him all about it.
Hi Brian. Tell us about yourself.
When I was in graduate school, my wife bought me a homebrew kit. This was in 2005. I kind of have the personality where, once I get into something, I want to know everything about it. The homebrew kit piqued my interest, but I realized this isn’t how people really made beer. I was living in Phoenix at the time, and I joined a big homebrew club in Phoenix. When I moved to Denver in January 2008, I got even more into it here, because of the beer culture. I joined Foam on the Range (huge beer club), and just got deeper into the practice of brewing. Denver is one of the epicenters of craft brewing in this country. Craft beer was a great way to meet people, and it quickly became a big part of my life. I wasn’t thrilled with my life as a researcher, so ultimately, I decided to give craft brewing a shot professionally. The industry was booming and I thought I had something special to bring to the market.
So you’ve never been a professional brewer before this?
Obviously I had a lot to learn about being a professional brewer and running a business. I think building a brewery is a gradual progression. First thing I learned is that you don’t get to make the beers you want to make and always make money on them. I’ve put out beers that I’m passionate about, but they’re just not big sellers. I initially made the imperial IPA (called Elevation) we sell right now as a joke, and now it’s one of our biggest sellers. I kept getting told “You need to make this hoppier”…and finally I did it. I went nuts with the hops. It was the fastest selling beer we’ve ever made. I made it one more time in a small batch, just to make sure people still wanted it, and it sold just as fast. We did it in on the production line and it’s currently our best selling canned beer.
How do you balance the creative side of brewing with the needs of the business?
We started with my wife and I, and hired one employee a couple months after we opened. We now have two locations and about 25 employees. Policies, procedures, and all the things you take for granted when you start at a new job…we had to make all of this. It’s a lot of work. We’re learning how to improve every day, and certainly balance the fun of craft brewing with running a business. Health insurance, and finances, and personel management. It’s all necessary, but we still make time to really get involved with the beer.
What do you think about the idea of the “flagship” beer?
I think there’s a balance between being creative and having a signature offering. Core brands and flagship beers really drive brewery success. Craft drinkers want the beer they can depend on, but they also want to try new releases. I think it’s important to find a nice equilibrium between innovative new beers and the beers that people have come to rely on. We are trying to do a lot of unique offerings. Our Conviction series of beers are one-offs that people can try. It’s a niche thing, but it works for a lot of breweries. I love trying new recipes, but I also love perfecting our classic offerings.
Would you still agree that craft brewing is a regional experience?
Craft brewing is still extremely regional. Brooklyn Brewery made over 250,000 barrels of beer last year and they don’t sell a drop of it in Colorado. They’re enormous compared to most craft brewers. Look at the big mid-west craft brewers like Shorts Brewing, and New Glarus, and Bells. They’re extremely popular breweries making a lot of beer yet they maintain a small distribution footprint. Brewing will always revolve around communities.
Where did the Renegade name come from? According to your site, you don’t f#$king care about traditional brewing styles…so how do you describe your beer?
If I was going to do this, I was going to do this my way. I came from a corporate backround where there were a lot of rules on what I could and could not do. There was a specific research methodology that I had to follow. There wasn’t a lot of room to be creative. Brewing was completely creative.
I never cared about winning a competition, I just wanted to make what I liked. This is where the Renegade attitude comes from. I didn’t set out to make a beer that 90% of the population likes. I know that we make great beer, and I know that they’re not for everyone. As a business owner, I’m fine with the fact that you might not like my beer. We make a very high-quality product, and we make them bold. Beer that challenges people is great beer.
We love community. You’re building a business around it.
We are a place to discover your local community. For one, no TV’s is big. Have a conversation. You don’t need to watch TV to enjoy yourself. Beer has done a lot for civilization. It’s brought people together. Our county was formed in pubs around a beer. Renegade wants to be more than just a brewery. We want to be a civic institution. Renegade is an oasis from the outside world. Awesome conversation and great beer. Period. I do a little write up on each of our cans. The last line on our cans is always “best enjoyed in the company of friends”. You’re best times are often just drinking a beer and bullshitting.
And the community is supporting you right?
The most amazing thing, as a small business owner, is that people are supporting this industry. We’re sticking our necks out and not making a lot of money, so it’s great to hear folks talking about our beer. My taproom, at Renegade, has become what other people’s taprooms were to me; A place to meet people, enjoy great beer, and give back to the community.
Where are you currently distributed?
We’re distributed from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins.
What’s are you drinking right now that isn’t a Renegade brew?
A favorite right now is Nomad, from Great Divide Brewing. It’s a pilsner, and they put a ton of effort into this beer. It’s really shows and I love it.
Published April, 2014.